dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

Why do people say 'after dark' when what they mean is 'during dark'? After dark would be when it's light again, right? * There are 10 types of people in this world -- those who read binary, and those who don't. * I'm rethinking the whole brown rice thing. What if it's just more white liberal self-hatred? Whole wheat, honey, unbleached flour. All better. Sez who? * Eugene should be HQ for White People for Diversity. We'll fight for diversity to be included in books, which is where we know to look for it. * Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but give a man a pillow, and he'll dream of steak. * What can you say about a state that puts the town of North Bend 225 miles southwest of Bend? We rely on visitors for entertainment.

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Inside a Grand Jury

December 16th, 2014 · 4 Comments

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Journalists seldom are chosen for trial juries. Attorneys on both sides won’t risk having a trained skeptic on the panel who might undo their effort to persuade them toward a verdict. So I greeted my jury summons in the summer of 2005 with quiet glee.

I had closed down my weekly newspaper earlier that year. Spring-term teaching was complete. A little diversion of sitting in the courthouse and watching the system work sounded good to me.

When my name was called, I expected to be on the hooked side of a “catch and release” sport. I stood in a circle with six others. We were asked whether there was any reason we couldn’t serve for a month. No one objected.

“Then you’re in,” the clerk announced. So began my stint on a Lane County grand jury.

A judge came over to thank us for doing our civic duty. “We’re proud that our grand jury is not a rubber stamp,” she told us. “We want you to think critically. Your job is to check the prosecutors’ work before any trial begins. We don’t want taxpayer money wasted on cases that shouldn’t go to trial.”

Then we were led to the room that would be our home for the next four weeks. It looked like a playhouse version of a courtroom: a long table with three chairs along the left wall, and a line of seven chairs behind a rail-high wall to the right.

“Can we get four more chairs?” I asked the court secretary.

“Why?” she asked, pointing. “Your chairs are against that wall.”

“If our job is to deliberate together, that’s harder to do when we’re seated in a theater row,” I explained. “Eye contact and all that.”

“No,” she replied. She started back toward her desk, just outside our room. Then she paused, looked at her comfortable shoes, and sighed, “In 20 years of doing this job, nobody’s ever asked about the seating arrangement.” There I was — ten minutes into a four-week assignment and already exposed as a troublemaker.

We made do with the seating, but it seemed emblematic as the month progressed. I cannot divulge any details of our deliberations, but I can tell you that questioning authority was easier said than done.

Every day, we got a steady stream of indictments for our consideration. We got to know all the assistant district attorneys and their individual styles. We saw many of the same policemen over and over. We witnessed the camaraderie between law enforcement professionals. We heard from witnesses and victims.

We never met a defendant or a defense attorney. No witness was ever cross-examined. We were allowed to ask questions and we did, but very few of those questions challenged the authorities before us.

I blogged about my experience, but not about any of the cases themselves. I had been looking forward to seeing how the system works, and I certainly got plenty of that.

We adjudicated over a hundred alleged felonies. Many were “FTA” formalities — suspects who had been released from jail and given a court date. Their subsequent “Failure To Appear” is itself a felony, requiring the grand jury’s ruling. Those were clear-cut cases, but many others were not.

I dissented on about a dozen charges, but I seldom had any others join me. I gathered enough votes to get only one charge dropped during my month on the panel. It was a single charge of wrongful possession among more than a dozen being brought against alleged meth dealers who may have looted their neighbors to intimidate them.

I’m sure all of the cases we heard have by now gone to trial or been otherwise settled. Guilt or innocence has been determined. In the case of every felony charge, a panel of citizens has heard the details of the case at least once. The system’s not perfect, but it’s sincere.

Do badges and uniforms alter people’s perceptions of credibility and respect? Certainly they do. Are regular citizens comfortable challenging that authority, even in a small room with an awkward seating arrangement? Not from what I saw.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at You can read his 2005 blog entries at

→ 4 CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Civic · Psycho

only “lateralists” can subvert top-down structures

December 7th, 2014 · 2 Comments

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Corporations and other large organizations will continue being top-down in structure until they recognize they’re subject to the power of the affine — that’s an esoteric term to describe self-similarity. Because they are top-down in structure, they cannot discern anything but what they know and what they are. Bottom-up might be the aspirant structure, but it cannot provide order and so it is not itself a structure.

The attainable variant is to hire lateralists — those who inhabit only and exclusively a horizontal space, weaving together the vertical hierarchies, but beholden to none of them. The current term of “silo-busters” is itself a verticalist term. Such is the level of subversion required — language can be expected to break down in describing the disruption, or it must adopt the dominant structure to describe the non-dominant impact.

(No, I’m not high. This is how my brain works all the time, I say to my Oregon friends.)

Large organizations (anyone who can hire supposedly “non-essential” personnel) should be hiring a bevy of lateralists. I have no exhaustive list, though one may exist out there. From my narrow perspective, I know of two.

A storyteller can help wonks turn their spreadsheets and “required” data analysis into compelling dramas where the decision-makers play a vital role in the sage. (It’s not what is. It’s what it means.) Some of this requires a showmanship that is counter to what they’ve been hired to demonstrate, but essential to the momentary success.

A game-theory aficionado can help with the day-to-day needs of consensus building and hostage negotiations. You may blanch at the idea that hostage negotiation is never a day-to-day affair, but it is. It’s usually not a person being held hostage, but an idea or an ideal. Having a go-to person on staff who understands the dynamics that emerge in these negotiations can help to achieve the greater good.

When these lateralists are empowered to move between “silos” and use their knowledge and skills when called upon, the top-down model starts to give way to a much more coherent and holistic approach that embraces both the verticality of hierarchy and the horizonality of problem-solving. (For the record, verticality is a word, but horizontality is not — which sort of proves my point.)

→ 2 CommentsTags: deekay · Deep

predicting College Football Playoff pairings

December 7th, 2014 · 3 Comments

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Nobody cares what I think (nor should they) and I have no special sources, but the College Football Playoffs are designed to reintroduce what computers cannot yet calculate. What is the algorithm for human drama?

Here are my guesses for how the committee will arrange its inaugural playoff pairings and a little bit of why it makes sense.

I see the Ducks jumping to No. 1 past Alabama for a couple of reasons. The Ducks have become a media darling in the Northeast, which won’t have a representative in the final four. Marcus Mariota is a lock for the Heisman next week, even without his impromptu lookalike pose last week. Pushing ‘Bama off its pedestal will create drama, but it will also set up the game the south most wants to see.

Alabama will be seeded to play Florida State on January 1 in New Orleans, where attendance and passions will exceed all expectations. This is the game the South wants to see and the committee can give it to them, pitting a dominant No. 2 against an unbeaten No. 3 in the Sugar Bowl.

That leaves only one more drama to the storyline the committee is crafting. Who is seeded No. 4 to play the Ducks? The candidates are TCU, Ohio State, and Baylor. All won yesterday. I’m guessing Ohio State for several reasons.

That would send a Big Ten champ to play the Pac 12 champ at the Rose Bowl. Even amid all these changes, there is still the natural order of things. Only Ohio State can claim allegiance from the Midwest. If the heartland has no team to root for, that leaves a large swath of the nation without a natural team. Ohio State has won eleven straight, behind three different quarterbacks. That’s a good story.

If each top-seed wins, that sets up Oregon vs. Alabama, new vs. old, unstoppable vs. immoveable. And if both are upset, Ohio State brings Urban Meyer back to battle his old cross-state rival, Florida State. If it’s a mix of outcomes in the semi-final, we’ll have two legendary coaches (Meyer and Nick Saban) matching wits, or two Heisman quarterbacks (Mariota and FSU’s Jameis Winston) battling to the end.

That’s how I think it’ll go, a little over an hour from now. But I could be wrong.

→ 3 CommentsTags: deekay

We’re in GMOvertime

December 6th, 2014 · 2 Comments

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If I were an executive for Monsanto or Dupont, I wouldn’t be feeling very good about Oregon right now. After pumping millions and millions of dollars into a campaign to defeat a statewide referendum that would have mandated labeling of GMO products, the outcome of the election remains too close to (officially) call.

At last count, Measure 92 was being defeated by a few hundred votes. It’s unlikely that a recount will change the outcome, but that reassurance is cold comfort to those who watch from corporate suites and spreadsheets.

When the battle shapes up as money versus passion, and you’re on the money side, you want to win an election like this one resoundingly. You want to win going away. You want your adversaries to be grateful the contest is over. You don’t want them itching for a rematch, because they’ll bring it to you.

I was accidentally given a front-row seat to the current vote-tally drama of Measure 92’s fate. Even though several statewide polls and pundits declared Measure 92 as defeated, those who campaigned for it did not give up. Advocates have very nearly defeated Big Money, Big Business, Big Agriculture. And that’s a Big Deal. Their immediate response was “We’ll win eventually.”

This is not always the case. Campaigns can be all-consuming. After an election has been lost, the campaign often dies. But when the ideal being fought for never takes a back seat to the fight itself, as with the de-stigmatization of marijuana use, advocates build on lessons learned from each previous campaign.

Labeling genetically modified organisms was first suggested to Oregon voters in 2002. It got thumped at the polls. This time around, it’s still too close to call. A month after election day, the game’s still not over. We’re in GMOvertime.

For the first time, the state published a list of citizens whose ballots had been cast but not counted. They may have forgotten to sign the back of their envelope. The signature may not have matched their voter registration. They may have changed their name or address. In those cases, voters have 14 days to remedy the discrepancy or deficiency and still have their vote counted.

My son received a postcard informing him that he had forgotten to sign his envelope. It happens to the best of us. That signature on the back can naturally feel like an optional afterparty, like getting a sticker that says “I voted,” or grabbing a cookie from the hospitality tray on the way out the door. Too soon for most of us, they’ll probably match the saliva that sealed the envelope with voter-provided DNA on file, but for now we still use signatures to prevent fraud.

My son forgot. Then he forgot again. He meant to stop in at the Lane County elections office to fix the problem, but time slipped away.

Almost two weeks after the election was supposedly over, my doorbell rang. Three young people with clipboards or iPads stood in the dark, asking if my son was home. He was. They chatted on the front porch for a minute or two. Upshot: after determining that his vote would likely be in their favor, they helped him get his vote counted.

Measure 92 advocates did this thousands of times, all across the state. They reduced their margin of not-yet-defeat from thousands to hundreds. It may not end up changing the outcome in 2014, but it may very well alter the trajectory into the future. Even if they’ve lost, they’ve not been defeated.

In a runners’ world, this is known as “pushing through the tape.” Coaches teach runners to finish strong by imagining that the last step after each race defines the first step of the next.

Whether Measure 92 succeeds or fails, its advocates finished strong, and they’ll be spoiling for a rematch. Money doesn’t multiply itself as easily as passion when a race ends up being this close. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked for your signature to get a similar measure on the ballot very soon.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

→ 2 CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Pure Pol · Upper-Left-Edge

How Black Friday Stays Dark

December 6th, 2014 · 2 Comments

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If there’s a day set aside to celebrate consumerism every year, today is that day. Its unofficial name — “Black Friday” — conveys with surprising honesty how the power has shifted in modern commerce. Spoiler alert: it’s not about you.

“Black” makes anything — even a Friday — sound ominous, secretive, shadowy. We unconsciously assume that what follows will be bad news. But it stuck anyway. Shoppers and sellers look forward to Black Friday. This adopted nickname came straight out of the accounting department, which doesn’t happen very often.

If you’ve ever looked at a spreadsheet prepared by a professional, negative numbers are printed in red. Red numbers along the bottom line mean you’re losing money. Black numbers show that you’ve turned a profit. Red: bad; black: good.

On this day each year, businesses hope to turn a profit. Now that the Christmas shopping season has begun, those year-to-date profit numbers should begin turning from red to black. Not to belabor the point, but it’s all about the numbers.

Now that you know the day is specifically celebrating the numbers (and not the people or the purchases themselves), you might look at your role in the rite a little bit differently.

I’m reminded of a “Far Side” cartoon with a dowdy couple being carried by celebrating savages in a caldron toward a bonfire. The wife says, “The natives were thrilled when we told them we were Virginians!” A small misunderstanding sometimes can have large consequences.

As a consumer, contemplate for a moment who’s on the other end of the exchange. Are you dealing with a maker, a merchant, or a mass marketer? Each offers something different.

No community in America has a better collection of makers than Saturday Market and its indoor holiday extension, Holiday Market. The person offering earrings or scented soaps or decoupaged light switch plates made them. Only makers are invited to sell. You’re paying for a literal expression of time and talent. That’s commerce at its most basic and intimate level.

Next Saturday, Dec. 6, Lane Library League’s 15th annual Authors & Artists Fair brings a second set of makers to the fairgrounds. It’s an embarrassment of riches and you’re invited to go straight to the source. We should all be grateful we have that opportunity.

If makers can’t give you what you’re looking for, local merchants want to earn your business. They’ve shopped for their customers, looking for the items they believe will entice you. It might be some earrings that will go well with a sweater you bought recently, or a soap that smells like your favorite herbs.

We have some great merchants in our area, from the many locally owned boutiques at the 5th Street Public Market to employee-owned stores like Bi-Mart and Winco. The merchant seeks to know you and what you like. Sales are the only way the owner can earn a profit.

Not so with mass marketers. They are publicly traded corporations, so they make money if their stock rises. Stockholders call the shots. Customers are just part of their formula. If the company sells more socks or baby diapers than anyone else in the world, they may not even earn a profit on their “loss leaders.” It’s a numbers game.

Nobody wants to feel like they’re only a number, so mass marketers have learned to disguise it. Greeters smile and make eye contact. Cashiers use your name if you pay with a check or a credit card. Do they care about you? Only if there are enough others who are exactly like you.

Growing their market share often trumps immediate profits. As long as their stock is rising, their future is secure. Profits certainly matter, but dominance matters more. Do you need proof? We now have behemoths who care so little about short-term profits that they give away their products in return for your attention and loyalty.

Google, Facebook and Twitter are worth billions. Yet they never asked you for a dime — at least not directly. The less you think about or understand that exchange, the better it is for mass marketers. On Black Friday, darker is better.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Civic · Deep · You-gene


November 21st, 2014 · 3 Comments

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There’s an unanswered question inside the recent management drama at Emerald People’s Utility District. If you haven’t followed it over the past few months, here’s a quick recap.

In September, EPUD’s board of directors put General Manager Scott Coe on probation for six months. Coe offered his resignation, but the board declined. They also censured one of their board members, forbidding Katherine Schacht from representing EPUD at conferences or having any contact with Coe outside of board meetings.

In October, we found out why. An unidentified EPUD employee had distributed to each board member (and also to this newspaper) over ten hours of recorded conversations between Coe and various board members, captured by the company’s phone system. Infighting between EPUD’s leaders was now on the record. The board again declined Coe’s offer to resign.

In November, EPUD board president Kevin Parrish announced a termination agreement with Coe, effective December 31. Coe agrees not to sue the utility company or its directors. In return, EPUD will pay Coe $124,261 in a severance package that amounts to six months’ salary and a scheduled contribution to his retirement plan, plus his EPUD-issued iPad.

That’s the story. Now the question, which you may have also been asking yourself: What’s with the iPad?

The salary and retirement payments are spelled out in Coe’s employment contract, but his contract does not contemplate custody of a personal electronic device. We learned later that Coe’s earlier offer to resign also specified his desire to keep his iPad.

I have an iPad. If I had to give it up for some reason, I probably would buy another one and transfer my files and apps onto the new one. It’s not the iPad itself that I wonder about here. It just seems out of proportion in this context.

If a teenager was being grounded for bad grades, losing an iPad might come up. But when an executive agrees to walk away with an eighth of a million dollars, why even mention an electronic gadget? That seems silly. Coe’s own estimate of the iPad’s value is $150. He told me it is a “twice-used” model, repurposed after another EPUD employee left the company.

Rather than putting his staff in the awkward position of determining whether their boss should keep his iPad, Coe told me, “I thought I’d just make it easy on everyone and add it to the exit package.”

It still seemed weirdly specific to me. If Coe had asked for the company’s automated recording system as part of his settlement, that would have made more sense. Part of Coe’s legacy will be the curtailing of those company-wide recordings. (I don’t know about you, but “This call may be monitored or recorded for quality assurance” has taken on a whole new meaning for me after this incident.)

I called EPUD board president Parrish, hoping he might shed some light on the exchange. He called me back, clearly exhausted from the whole controversy. He was frank: “I don’t know why he wanted the iPad so much. In the great scheme of things, it didn’t seem reasonable to fight it. I just really wanted to get it over with.”

I started to wonder whether Apple’s product placement strategy was no longer limited to movies and television shows. Is the richest company in the world now planting references to its products in employment contracts and news stories?

I asked John Stark, KLCC’s general manager, about how his station takes advantage of the iPad’s lure. Every time our NPR affiliate asks listeners to contribute, they are enticed with a chance to win an iPad. Sure enough, Stark confirmed it.

“Public radio listeners covet iPads,” Stark told me. “It’s the most desirable reward we offer for pledging, even surpassing the ‘Nina Totenbag’ and Carl Kassel’s voice on your answering machine. During our December Radiothon, KLCC will again offer iPads to lucky listeners.”

Thanks to his negotiated severance package, Coe won’t be among those coveting an iPad from KLCC. But he might wish he could have Carl Kassel’s voice — really, anyone’s but his — on his phone machine.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

→ 3 CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Civic · Psycho · You-gene

Has “Lesser of Two Evils” Stopped Working (for Democrats)?

November 20th, 2014 · 3 Comments

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Thoughtful analyses on these pages have attended to the alarmingly low voter turnout in our recent election. By some counts, the last time an election was decided by so few was 1942, when many Americans were busy fighting World War II.

Strict voter ID laws and new limits on early voting, uniformly sponsored by Republicans, may well have contributed to their sweeping victories last Tuesday. Voter suppression worked, and people are talking about it. Less understood and little noticed is voter self-suppression. Why did so many voters — disproportionately urban, young, and minority voters — stay home?

We know that a constant barrage of negative campaign ads can leave voters disgusted enough to not bother, but we’ve assumed that disgust will be evenly spread across the electorate. We may be living inside an experiment that proves that assumption wrong.

But before we get there, let’s back up. The “horse race” captivates us, but the groundskeeping of the track itself might have had more to do with the outcome than the horses themselves.

U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell made headlines in late 2010 when he told an audience at the Heritage Foundation that his party’s “top priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term.” Until that moment, electioneering and governance had been kept politely separate, at least in the public eye.

Republicans didn’t succeed in denying Obama a second term, but their strategy has certainly gummed up governance since. Collaboration between the two parties collapsed and we ended up with a governing model that lacks the nuance and balance that comes from considering the minority’s views.

Conservatives have traditionally done what they can to rein in liberals’ worst governing instincts. As skeptics and watchdogs, the political right warns against bureaucratic groupthink and hubristic excess. Unfettered government has no natural predator between elections, so the daily refinements and alternatives offered by contrarians are essential to success.

This new strategy is different. Bystanding Republicans simply smile, shake their heads, and wait. When the next election rolls around, they trot out all the ways government has botched things and said, “See?”

Citizens don’t necessarily dislike government. But they deeply dislike government overreach and clumsiness. Whether you like the idea of Obamacare or not, there was nothing to love about how it was rolled out. Republicans kept their distance as things fell apart, so there was no “government stink” on them when the election campaigns began.

Government is not efficient, competent, or lovable when left to its own devices. Voters welcomed the opportunity to register their lack of love last Tuesday.

Getting Republicans to the polls was one way to win the election. Convincing Democrats to stay home was another. This midterm campaign accomplished both, with a powerful assist from Democrats.

Back to the race track analogy, Republicans are better “mudders.” They believe government should be used only where necessary, and as sparingly as possible. A fast track frightens them. Watching government work, in their view, should be painful and plodding, not a sunny afternoon in the park. Negative political ads fit better their world view that government intervention should always be the least bad option.

Attack ads proliferate because they work. Their short-term effects have been well-documented, but what about the long-term consequences on society? What if voter apathy affects liberals more?

It stands to reason. Since liberals have a higher view of government, they have further to fall. Here’s where liberals have been unwittingly hurting themselves. By emphasizing the worst characteristics of their opponents, they are also tarnishing the image of government itself. They may have been winning their battles but slowly losing the war.

Candidates can win elections as the “lesser of two evils,” but maybe not perpetually. Institutional trust diminishes slightly after and because of each negative campaign. It doesn’t matter if the majority of Americans favor your policies if large enough numbers of them fail to vote.

At some point, each voter recognizes a third option when choosing between two evils. You can always put a pillow over your head and wish they’d both go away.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

→ 3 CommentsTags: Civic

Vetoes Clarify Issues, Strengthen the Party

November 7th, 2014 · 1 Comment

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Oregon Democrats did not suffer the drubbing that the party took nationwide on Tuesday. In fact, Democrats could find a silver lining in this week’s red horizon if they look at Oregon’s recent political history.

“The scene in Salem isn’t going to change much,” lobbyist Doug Barber told me over lunch on Wednesday. “Democrats are likely to pick up a seat or two in each chamber. Incumbents had a good year — especially Democrats.”

That includes our incumbentest chief executive ever, with Democrat John Kitzhaber heading into his fourth term as governor.

Our delegation to Washington, D.C. likewise will be unchanged. None of those races ended up being particularly close either. Rep. Peter DeFazio has endured a sequel to his own version of “Groundhog Day,” defeating challenger Art Robinson again, again. And Sen. Jeff Merkley’s race ended up offering much ado about nothing, once the Koch brothers lost interest in his opponent.

U.S.S. Oregon is “steady as she goes” in the turbulent waters of voter disaffection that capsized Democrats all across the nation.

If the scene in our state capital won’t be changing much, quite the opposite will be true in the nation’s capital. President Obama will have to learn how to use his veto power. His best tutor would be Governor Kitzhaber.

Obama has so far vetoed fewer bills than any full-term president since Millard Fillmore — only two, and both for technical reasons. In fact, if you want to lay blame for this week’s Democratic losses, you can point to the president’s collusion with now-outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Reid refused to schedule votes for any bills that the White House didn’t want to sign. This gave Democrats the appearance of a united front against Republicans, which became the club the challengers used to pummel the incumbents.

In state after state, the attack lines were the same. “My opponent has voted with Barack Obama 98 percent of the time….” That argument could be made effectively and universally only because the votes were few and so, united.

This is not how federal governance is supposed to work. Senators and Representatives are sent to Washington to look out for their citizens’ best interests — not what is expedient for their political party’s leaders.

Vetoes shine a light that backroom bottlenecks cannot. The nightly news seldom leads with what didn’t happen that day, so Reid’s refusals went unnoticed by most Americans. Vetoes will attract more attention — and that might be good for Democrats.

Kitzhaber can show Obama how it’s done. He vetoed so many bills during his first two terms as governor in the 1990s that he earned the nickname “Dr. No” — but notice what has happened since.

Kitzhaber’s veto binge clarified issues for Oregon voters. Republican legislators voted for bills and the Democratic governor refused to sign 200 of them, often with a news conference explaining why. Republicans have not won a single executive branch office or controlled either legislative chamber in Salem since.

Only the chief executive can claim to be speaking to and for all voters. Legislators will and should compete with one another for their piece of the pie, but the whole pie is the purview of the president or governor.

If Obama can learn to veto legislation as effectively as Kitzhaber did, Democrats may see his last two years as more consequential than his first six.

Obama must speak clearly, briefly and often about why he’s refusing to sign into law various items on his opponents’ agenda. He also must accept that occasionally an otherwise loyal lawmaker may break ranks to represent his or her constituents. Some of his vetoes may even gather the two-thirds majority necessary to become law without his signature.

Democratic leadership has resisted this scenario because they believe it makes the president look weak. Kitzhaber has shown there is life after vetoes, for the politician and especially for his party.

Voters deserve a better understanding of what each party stands for. Vetoes are good for that. President Fillmore refused to use his veto power. And no one ever heard from the Whigs again.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

→ 1 CommentTags: Arr-Gee published · DC · Media · Pure Pol · Upper-Left-Edge

Fifth Friday Frightful Fripperies

October 31st, 2014 · 1 Comment

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Who ever thought it would be a good idea to put Election Day so close to Halloween? Billions of dollars are being spent to spook us about poor people or billionaires (choose one) — but there’s so much more. Ebola, ISIS, identity theft, school shootings, pink slime — we’re adrift in an age of free-floating and unarticulated fears. Here’s my attempt to articulate some of those in a first-ever collection of fifth Friday far-flung frightful fripperies:
• Your throw pillows are on the verge of being overthrown.
• Your lack of extra strength is why you’ll buy anything making that claim on its label.
• “Heavy duty” used to have the same effect on you, back when you were 30 pounds lighter.
• Bacteria grow and change faster than you, and you can’t stay out of their way.
• You almost certainly will be killed by something smaller than you.
• Better lighting will fix only so much.
• There’s nothing wrong with you that any product or purchase can improve.
• Nothing you do can predetermine your children’s choices.
• What makes you think the dark forces that combine in Drano will stop working together after your sink is unclogged?
• Just because everybody is sporting neon below their ankles doesn’t make it look less silly.
• You’re doing something wrong and everybody knows it.
• If somebody swept your kitchen of every spice, package and can that’s past its expiration date, you would starve.
• Fashion and comfort police soon will decree the Unitard Age has begun, and you won’t be ready.
• Autocorrect will mix up “wife” and “wifi” in the most embarrassing way possible.
• Your refrigerator’s random cycling on and off is sending signals to all your other appliances.
• Toothpaste and drywall have more common ingredients than you ever would have guessed.
• Your cable package does not include the network showing the next big hit.
• We will build it. They will come. We won’t like them.
• In a cashless society, checks won’t bounce — they’ll ricochet.
• Plants resent being hybridized and they’re getting ready to show it.
• Our dogs think the world of us, but only when we’re looking at them.
• Apple secretly pays product placement fees to coffee shop regulars, but you’re not one of them.
• Your favorite health food is not produced sustainably.
• You left something in your front yard just long enough for a neighbor to decide he or she dislikes you.
• You know of at least one online password that is forgotten and irretrievable, but there are more.
• Everyone you know has more frequent flyer miles than you.
• Your loved ones are concerned that you spend too much or too little time in the bathroom.
• You’re good. You’re not good enough. You cannot believe both at once, but they are equally true.
• Your guilty pleasures will cease giving you pleasure, but continue giving you guilt.
• Aluminum will turn out to have been a bad idea.
• Reading cursive will give you opportunity to impress your grandchildren and depress yourself at the same time.
• Artificial Intelligence has progressed further than we realized, because the smartest machines are now capable of concealing their capabilities from us.
• Half the buttons on your devices and gizmos are waiting to improve your life, if only you could figure out what they do.
• Consuming so much comfort food that you feel uncomfortable leaves you needing more comfort.
• There’s something deep inside bowling ball finger holes that you don’t want to know about.
• You will be forgotten, and sooner than you think.
• Fear of any of the above makes you less — not more — capable of coping.
Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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Fresno, Eugene’s Forgettable Sister City

October 24th, 2014 · 4 Comments

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Eugene has four official sister cities. They are in Japan, Russia, South Korea, and Nepal. Not included on that list is a city that bears some familial resemblances to Eugene and is much closer. Last month, I drove to Fresno, California in a car with intermittent air conditioning. Among professional writers, this passes as “suffering for your art.”

My first time in Fresno was traveling in a camper van in 1990 with my two grade-school-age sons. After a week in southern California where perfection was displayed and marketed on every corner, we were happy to get away from the crowds — until we discovered what those crowds already knew.

Ocean breezes and lush parks behind us, we contented ourselves with a campsite under a single sad sapling. If you know the latter half of Jonah’s Old Testament story, you can substitute his details for mine.

Whatever deal California had made with the Devil for its unrelenting perfection, the Devil must have gotten the state’s central valley in return. Hades is not normally depicted with a highway running through it, but that’s only because nobody wants to remember their time in Fresno.

Noti resident Jodi Sommers told me her Fresno story in the Eugene airport. As she was telling it, she was also wishing she could forget it.

She and her boyfriend ended up in Fresno to repair their car after bears had disrupted their camping trip.

They had been backpacking in Yosemite, and black bears smelled food inside their locked Mazda GLC. “They were familiar with this type of car. They broke the passenger window, rolled back the frame around the window and climbed on in and ate a lot of our food, leaving bear slime throughout the car.”

Steve Ransom grew up along that I-5 corridor but knew college would be his ticket away, so he came to the University of Oregon. He has since returned to suburban Sacramento and married his 5th-grade sweetheart, but he never goes to Fresno. He described it to me as “where beige goes to die.”

I can tell you what dead beige looks like. It’s a massive downtown walking mall, filled with urine-stained concrete.

Fresno’s Fulton Mall opened 50 years ago last month, to much fanfare. Eugene’s downtown mall was a scaled-down version of Fresno’s, incorporating fountains and sculptures and container landscaping.

Today the Fresno mall is just dreadful. Its caption today would be: “If we build it, they will flee.”

The fountains no longer function, the containers hold weeds, and a million-dollar Renoir sculpture looks hidden in plain sight among resale shops, social service agencies, and vacant buildings.

Fresno is just now preparing to re-open its mall to traffic. For once, we can say Eugene moved more quickly than a peer.

My pilgrimage to Fresno had another purpose. I wanted to shake somebody’s hand, to thank them for Jon Ruiz. Eugene City Manager Ruiz was one of two assistant city managers in Fresno when he interviewed for his current job in February, 2008.

Look at what Eugene has accomplished since and compare it to Fresno over the same period. Give our city manager even the smallest slice of credit for that. We came out ahead.

Executive Assistant Therese Edwards remembered Ruiz well, and she was willing to shake my hand. “I worked for Jon for one day less than a year,” she told me. “That’s how long he stayed in the public works department. I could tell right away that he was a different sort of manager.”

Edwards had worked for the city for long enough to know. “Most managers would come in and close their door, just learning the job first. Not Jon. He was reaching out from Day One. He would talk to anybody who could help move things along. He always had a vision he wanted to see accomplished.”

She remembered two things Ruiz especially loved. “He loved his tea. And he loved to ride his bike. So Eugene’s probably been a good fit for him, right?”

It’s been only six and a half years. But yeah — so far, so good.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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